Nothing is easier than house training a spayed or neutered rabbit. (We will have comments on potty training reproductively intact rabbits a little later in this article.)
In fact, spayed and neutered rabbits potty train themselves.
Some of their potty habits, however, you probably shouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about.
Rabbits Eat and Poop in the Same Place
Rabbits don’t just poop in their litter box. They also eat in their litter box.
The hay you put over the absorbent paper in your rabbit’s litter box is a big part of your rabbit’s diet.
Providing your rabbit with a box for eating and pooping solves a lot of your daily cleanup issues. Rabbits eat their own poop, hay, soft pellets, eat them, and keep eating hay.
Your rabbit doesn’t mind eating hay that gets poop on it (although it prefers to eat the soft pellets directly from its own anus).
Your rabbit actually prefers to eat hay that has soft poop on it. That soft poop is added nutrition.
You don’t have to train your rabbit to eat its own poop.
You just have to give it a place to poop that is easy for you to clean. Now, let’s consider how to do that.
How to Potty Train a Rabbit?
Now let’s look at the things you can do to train a rabbit to use a litter box.
Buy Your Rabbit’s Training Boxes
The first thing you need to do to potty train your rabbit is to set up their training boxes.
There’s no such thing as a dumb bunny, but it is also true that there is no such thing as a rabbit that can read a sign that says “Poop here.”
To train a young rabbit to poop in a box, at first you will need two or three boxes. This way he will be in an acceptable place when he feels the urge.
As your rabbit chooses a favorite place to poop and pee, you can withdraw the other boxes.
Rabbits are fine with open litter boxes.
They don’t poop and pee under a cover. Rabbits can use the same kinds of litter boxes that your cat uses, although you should never try to potty train with a recycled kitty litter box.
No matter how much you scrub, your cat’s scent will remain in the box, and frighten your rabbit away.
Always buy the largest, deepest box you can fit in available space.
You want your rabbit to be able to stretch out and nibble on hay while peeing and pooping in the box, and you want enough hay that your rabbit doesn’t get urine or soft poops on its fur.
Your rabbit is more huggable without yellow fur or poop hanging off its ears. But keeping urine and poop off the skin also prevents scalding and infections.
Fill Your Bunny’s Litter Box from the Bottom Up
Since the litter box will be the place you want your rabbit to both pee and poop, the first thing you need to do is to put absorbent paper in the bottom to soak up urine.
Never use cat litter to line the bottom of your rabbit’s litter box. It releases dust that can make your bunny sneeze, wheeze, and cough.
Don’t use scented bark like pine or cedar, either, because their essential oils are toxic to rabbits, especially to rabbits under six months old, and can cause sudden liver failure.
Instead, use unscented absorbent paper like Care-Fresh or aspen shavings, which don’t have toxic essential oils. You can find these products at your local pet supply store or online. If you need to economize, you can use hardwood stove pellets (used for heating), available from feed and agricultural supply stores.
When you are potty training a young rabbit, you only need about one-quarter inch (6 mm) of absorbent material in the bottom of the litter box. Adult rabbits need about half an inch (12 mm).
The next thing to consider placing in your bunny’s litter box is some kind of grate to keep her from walking in her own urine. The grate isn’t there to keep your rabbit from eating the absorbent layer in the bottom of the litter box. This will happen from time to time, and you will have made sure anything that you put in the box is non-toxic and edible for rabbits.
But a grate over the absorbent layer but under the hay you put on top will help keep your rabbit cleaner and more huggable.
Choosing the Hay for Your Rabbit’s Litter Box
The next step in setting up your rabbit’s litter box is important for two reasons.
Your rabbit will eat the hay you use to fill their litter box.
And one of the ways you will enjoy your rabbit is watching them contentedly eating hay in their litter box. So you want to choose hay that is clean, odor-free, and pleasant to look at, as well as nutritious for your rabbit.
The best kinds of hay for rabbits are orchard grass, timothy grass, bromme (Bermuda) grass, and oat hay. Remember, the way rabbits get their nutrition from hay is by letting the probiotic bacteria in their colon break it down. What makes a kind of hay good for your rabbit isn’t how much protein it has in it, like high-protein alfalfa hay, but how well your rabbit can digest it.
The hay that is great for horses and cows can be less than ideal for rabbits.
Never give your rabbit lawn clippings, especially if you use lawn chemicals. You can buy bales of hay at your local feed store or agricultural supply center, or you can order them online.
Now, let’s get to the easy part.
Persuading Your Bunny to Use the Litter Box
There’s nothing easier than training your rabbit to use their litter box. Fill it with fresh hay. Your rabbit will figure out everything else.
Unless, as we mentioned earlier, your rabbit hasn’t been spayed or neutered. Rabbits that are left reproductively intact reproduce like, well, rabbits. Female rabbits that have not been spayed will instinctively build nests in hay. They will have their kittens (baby rabbits) in the litter box, and you won’t be able to change it to keep it clean.
And male rabbits that have not been neutered tend to “go” wherever and whenever they want.
Rabbits that are free to reproduce don’t make good house bunnies. They need a larger space that won’t become smelly or polluted outdoors in a protected backyard.
More Tips About Managing Your Rabbit’s Litter Box
- Rabbits need fresh hay and fresh absorbent liner every day. If you have a rabbit that is younger than six months, then it may be OK to change the hay and liner every other day.
- Mold is toxic. Never give rabbits that is coated with black or white mold.
- Disinfect your rabbit’s litter box every time you change it, but don’t use household detergents. A 50-50 mixture of vinegar and water is the only cleaner or disinfectant you should use on your rabbit’s litter box.
- Bunnies that have difficulty hopping need a litter box with one side a little lower than the others. This way they can step inside rather than hop inside.
- Pooping and peeing outside the box can be your rabbit’s way of telling you that they are upset with you. Try more petting and giving them more attention. Don’t punish rabbits. They don’t understand punishment. Pet them on top of their heads to calm them down so they do their business in their box.
Important to Know – Rabbits Eat Their Own Poop
The reason it is so easy to house train spayed and neutered rabbits are that they et their own poop.
Well, at least some of their own poop.
Rabbits make two kinds of droppings. The first pass of food through their digestive tracts yields soft, dark droppings called cecotropes.
When a rabbit eats grass, vegetables, or other plants, the chewed food passes through its throat into its esophagus, and from the esophagus into the stomach.
The muscles around the stomach with the action of the stomach acid turn the chewed plants into a kind of mush.
The next stop for digested food is the rabbit’s small intestine.
The small intestine absorbs the few vitamins, minerals, and amino acids released in the stomach. Then the mass partially digested food passes into the rabbit’s large intestine, aka the colon.
The colon is where the rabbit’s digestive process gets some help from probiotic bacteria. You may know that Lactobacillus bacteria help humans digest their food.
In rabbits, a non-pathogenic form of Streptococcus breaks down the fibers in plants into fatty acids.
Probiotic bacteria in rabbits release butyric acid, the same fatty acid humans get from eating butter.
Probiotic bacteria transform plant fiber into an entirely different form—but the colon doesn’t absorb these nutrients.
The colon mostly absorbs water. A rabbit “poops in reverse” to send fermented plant food into a special segment inside its small intestine for absorption of the nutrients the bacteria release.
But there’s still more food value in the partially digested plants.
The rabbit’s digestive tract sends out a kind of softer, watery poop first, and the rabbit eats those pellets directly from its anus.
Fortunately for human sensibilities, rabbits mostly do this at night.
Then the poop pellets go through the digestive tract one more time, have still more nutrients extracted from them, and finally, come out as hard, black pellets—usually during the day—that have yielded all the protein and fat that you wouldn’t think are even in green plants.
Why do rabbit owners need to understand this process?
The simple fact is, rabbits can starve if they don’t eat their own poop. Poop-eating is essential to rabbit nutrition.
You need to set up your rabbit’s litter box to make this process easier. But there is one more thing you need to know about rabbits and poop.
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